Catholic Charity and Civic Performance in the Years before Quebec's Quiet Revolution: The Depression Hockey League, 1932-60

Document Type

Grant Proposal

Date Accepted

Summer 2012

Project Description/Abstract

The essay uses sport as a window on bigger political and social changes that gripped French Canada during the years of its belated modernization, 1940s-60s. The forms and functions of the Depression Hockey League demonstrate, at a grassroots level, the quotidian ways in which French Quebec emerged from the “Great Darkness” (Grand Noirceur) of the 1930s into a modern, secular, state-oriented society it is today. The Depression Hockey League (Ligue de Hockey Dépression) was a senior amateur hockey league in Montreal created in the depths of the Great Depression. Its principal goal was the raising of charity funds, almost all of which were bestowed on the St Vincent de Paul Society. The league was small (only four teams played in it) but it quickly developed a very high public profile as a prominent québécois institution.

The Depression Hockey League was much more than a peculiarly beneficent weekly “beer league.” It encapsulated pre-Quiet Revolution notions of masculine citizenship and the importance of charitable performance to French-Catholic national identity. Here, sports history reflects something bigger, beyond the field of play. The DHL was a sporting embodiment of how French Canadians viewed themselves at a time when that self-image was changing. DHL men were proffered models of mid-century French-Canadian manhood: on the ice, they performed masculinity in a sport that was fast, rough and dangerous; off the ice, they raised money for their society’s poor. And yet, even as the DHL rose to its height of prominence in the 1950s, its meaning was changing. The onset of the Quiet Revolution – a thoroughgoing series of changes that replaced Catholic authority with public-sector state supremacy in education, social welfare and national leadership - altered the meaning of sport-based masculine public performance and robbed it of its freight as a means and model of being un vrai homme québécois.

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